Indian American Akash Patel was photographing headstones at the historic Elmwood Cemetery in New Brunswick, New Jersey as a First Year Seminar assignment, marking the 100th anniversary of the 1918 flu pandemic, when the president of the Elmwood Cemetery Association, Eleanor Malloy, offered him a paid internship.
Patel then spent the whole summer researching the 1918 flu’s affect on New Brunswick and New Jersey, through which he found archives at the state’s health department in Trenton, at local hospitals and elsewhere.
According to The College of New Jersey press release, Patel’s research revealed that the pandemic came to New Jersey through the servicemen returning home from World War I in Europe, killing almost 10,000 people statewide with 6,700 cases in New Brunswick alone.
Patel’s research also revealed that in October 1918, the peak of the pandemic, 110 people died while 36 of them were buried at Elmwood Cemetery.
Malloy has been thankful to Patel as, if it were not for his research, the information collected would have been lost to history, the press release says.
The 1918 flu, also known as the so-called Spanish flu, affected the young and healthy, shortening the lifespan in the U.S. by 10 years.
The pandemic is estimated to have killed more than 50 million worldwide and shows how coordinated public responses and prevention campaigns were needed while the field of epidemiology realized that diseases needed to be better tracked and investigated.
Patel gave a presentation on his research at the cemetery and attended events at The College of New Jersey to mark the 100th anniversary of the flu.
Patel plans to go to medical school.